England re-map project threatens aid disputes
By Tom Allen-Stevens
FARMERS have been warned to brace themselves for an outbreak of disputes over area aid after the government started an 18-month project to re-map Englands entire farmed area.
In a bid to prevent IACS fraud, the Rural Payments Agency is using spy-in-the-sky technology to help create the largest ever UK land use database. But the NFU has warned farmers they could face considerable disruption when the new maps are circulated for verification by landowners. There are also fears that data that should be used to help farmers will be used against them.
The re-mapping project, believed to be the biggest government investigation into land use since the Domesday Book, is now a statutory requirement for all EU member states wishing to apply for area aid, said the RPA. "In most EU states there are sound spatial databases and land registers now to ensure IACS requirements are met," said RPAs Head of Central Scheme Management Unit Bill Duncan. The UK, France and Germany are the last three states to comply.
Using new digital mapping software, aerial photographs of the whole country and farmers original IACS maps, the agency has already mapped 213,000 IACS-eligible parcels of land out of a total 1.7m. Farmers will be issued with the new maps next month and asked to verify the data.
The process means the area an individual can claim payments on could go up or down. "Early indications show more than 90% require no change to the recorded area," assured Mr Duncan.
But the NFU is worried that agreeing the data with the RPA will be very time-consuming. "Potentially every field in the country could have a dispute," said arable support schemes adviser Richard Wordsworth. "It has not happened before, so we just do not know how big a deal it will be."
Christopher Monk, head of farming at land agent Strutt and Parker, fears a repeat of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) Act consultation. The areas identified by the Countryside Agency maps, designed to open up more land to public access, were frequently different from those intended and much landowners time was wasted making corrections, he said.
The RPA assures growers there will be benefits once the database is complete. Data can quickly be cross-referenced with suckler cow claims and IACS Area Aid Application returns, for example.
But with similar mapping systems also being using by the British Potato Council to spot levy dodgers, some, like mapping sofware consultant Victor Clark are concerned. "Farmers have a right to use the data government agencies are compiling about them to help them with their businesses – the potential is huge. But it seems they are being used as a tool to penalise them."
lMore on the Rural Land Register project can be found in the June 8 issue of Crops magazine. *